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Low Back / Lumbar Spine Stretches

10 Best Yoga Poses for Back Pain

  • Cat-Cow

  • Downward-Facing Dog

  • Extended Triangle

  • Sphinx Pose

  • Cobra Pose

  • Locust Pose

  • Bridge Pose

  • Half Lord of the Fishes

  • Two-Knee Spinal Twist

  • Child’s Pose

  • Research

  • Takeaway

Why it’s beneficial

If you’re dealing with back pain, yoga may be just what the doctor ordered. Yoga is a mind-body therapy that’s often recommended to treat not only back pain but the stress that accompanies it. The appropriate poses can relax and strengthen your body.

Practicing yoga for even a few minutes a day can help you gain more awareness of your body. This will help you notice where you’re holding tension and where you have imbalances. You can use this awareness to bring yourself into balance and alignment.

1. Cat-Cow

This gentle, accessible backbend stretches and mobilizes the spine. Practicing this pose stretches your torso, shoulders, and neck.

Muscles worked:

  • erector spinae

  • rectus abdominis

  • triceps

  • serratus anterior

  • gluteus maximus

To do this:

  1. Get on all fours.

  2. Place wrists underneath shoulders and knees underneath hips.

  3. Balance weight evenly between all four points.

  4. COW: Inhale as you look up and let stomach drop down toward the mat.

  5. CAT: Exhale as you tuck chin into chest, draw navel toward spine, and arch spine toward the ceiling.

  6. Maintain awareness of your body as you do this movement.

  7. Focus on noting and releasing tension in your body.

  8. Continue this fluid movement for at least 1 minute.

2. Downward-Facing Dog

This traditional forward bend can be restful and rejuvenating. Practicing this pose can help relieve back pain and sciatica. It helps to work out imbalances in the body and improves strength.

Muscles worked:

  • hamstrings

  • deltoids

  • gluteus maximus

  • triceps

  • quadriceps

To do this:

  1. Get on all fours.

  2. Place hands in alignment under wrists and knees under hips.

  3. Press into hands, tuck toes under, and lift up knees.

  4. Bring sitting bones up toward the ceiling.

  5. Keep a slight bend in knees and lengthen spine and tailbone.

  6. Keep heels slightly off the ground.

  7. Press firmly into hands.

  8. Distribute weight evenly between both sides of body, pay attention to the position of hips and shoulders.

  9. Keep head in line with upper arms or with chin tucked in slightly.

  10. Hold this pose for up to 1 minute.

3. Extended Triangle

This classic standing posture may help alleviate backache, sciatica, and neck pain. It stretches the spine, hips, and groin, and strengthens shoulders, chest, and legs. It also helps relieve stress and anxiety.

Muscles worked:

  • latissimus dorsi

  • internal oblique

  • gluteus maximus and medius

  • hamstrings

  • quadriceps

To do this:

  1. From standing, walk feet about 4 feet apart.

  2. Turn right toes to face forward, and left toes out at an angle.

  3. Lift arms parallel to the floor with palms facing down.

  4. Tilt forward and hinge at right hip to come forward with arm and torso.

  5. Bring hand to leg, a yoga block, or onto the floor.

  6. Extend your left arm up toward the ceiling.

  7. Look up, forward, or down.

  8. Hold this pose for up to 1 minute.

  9. Repeat on the opposite side.

4. Sphinx Pose

This gentle backbend strengthens your spine and buttocks. It stretches your chest, shoulders, and abdomen. It also helps relieve stress.

Muscles worked:

  • erector spinae

  • gluteal muscles

  • pectoralis major

  • trapezius

  • latissimus dorsi

To do this:

  1. Lie on stomach with legs extended behind you.

  2. Engage the muscles of lower back, buttocks, and thighs.

  3. Bring elbows under shoulders with forearms on the floor and palms facing down.

  4. Slowly lift up your upper torso and head.

  5. Gently lift and engage lower abdominals to support your back.

  6. Ensure that you’re lifting up through your spine and out through the crown of head, instead of collapsing into your lower back.

  7. Keep gaze straight ahead, fully relax in this pose, while at the same time remaining active and engaged.

  8. Stay in this pose for up to 5 minutes.

5. Cobra Pose

This gentle backbend stretches abdomen, chest, and shoulders. Practicing this pose strengthens your spine and soothes sciatica. It helps relieve stress and fatigue that can accompany back pain.

Muscles worked:

  • hamstrings

  • gluteus maximus

  • deltoids

  • triceps

  • serratus anterior

To do this:

  1. Lie on stomach with hands under shoulders and fingers facing forward.

  2. Draw arms in tightly to chest. Don’t allow elbows to go out to the side.

  3. Press into hands to slowly lift head, chest, and shoulders.

  4. You can lift partway, halfway, or all the way up.

  5. Maintain a slight bend in elbows.

  6. You can let your head drop back to deepen the pose.

  7. Release back down to mat on an exhale.

  8. Bring arms by your side and rest your head.

  9. Slowly move hips from side to side to release tension from your lower back.

6. Locust Pose

This gentle backbend helps relieve lower back pain and fatigue. It strengthens the back torso, arms, and legs.

Muscles worked:

  • trapezius

  • erector spinae

  • gluteus maximus

  • triceps

To do this:

  1. Lie on stomach with arms next to torso and palms facing up.

  2. Touch big toes together and turn out heels to the side.

  3. Place forehead lightly on the floor.

  4. Slowly lift head, chest, and arms partway, halfway, or all the way up.

  5. You may bring hands together and interlace fingers behind back.

  6. To deepen the pose, lift legs.

  7. Look straight ahead or slightly upward as you lengthen the back of your neck.

  8. Remain in this pose for up to 1 minute.

  9. Rest before repeating the pose.

7. Bridge Pose

This is a backbend and inversion that can be stimulating or restorative. It stretches the spine and it may relieve backaches and headaches.

Muscles worked:

  • rectus and transverse abdominis

  • gluteus muscles

  • erector spinae

  • hamstrings

To do this:

  1. Lie on back with knees bent and heels drawn into sitting bones.

  2. Rest arms alongside your body.

  3. Press feet and arms into the floor as you lift your tailbone up.

  4. Continue lifting until thighs are parallel to the floor.

  5. Leave arms as they are, bringing palms together with interlaced fingers under hips, or placing hands under hips for support.

  6. Hold this pose for up to 1 minute.

  7. Release by slowly rolling spine back down to the floor, vertebra by vertebra.

  8. Drop knees in together.

  9. Relax and breathe deeply in this position.

8. Half Lord of the Fishes

This twisting pose energizes your spine and helps to relieve backache. It stretches hips, shoulders, and neck. This pose helps alleviate fatigue and stimulates internal organs.

Muscles worked:

  • rhomboids

  • serratus anterior

  • erector spinae

  • pectoralis major

  • psoas

To do this:

  1. From a seated position, draw right foot in close to body.

  2. Bring left foot to the outside of leg.

  3. Lengthen spine as you twist body to the left.

  4. Take left hand to the floor behind you for support.

  5. Move right upper arm to the outside of left thigh, or wrap elbow around left knee.

  6. Try to keep hips square to deepen the twist in your spine.

  7. Turn gaze to look over either shoulder.

  8. Hold this pose for up to 1 minute.

  9. Repeat on the other side.

9. Two-Knee Spinal Twist

This restorative twist promotes movement and mobility in the spine and back. It stretches your spine, back, and shoulders. Practicing this pose helps relieve pain and stiffness in your back and hips.

Muscles worked:

  • erector spinae

  • rectus abdominis

  • trapezius

  • pectoralis major

To do this:

  1. Lie on back with knees drawn into chest and arms extended to the side.

  2. Slowly lower legs to the left side while keeping knees as close together as possible.

  3. You may place a pillow under both knees or in between knees.

  4. You can use left hand to gently press down on knees.

  5. Keep neck straight, or turn it to either side.

  6. Focus on breathing deeply in this position.

  7. Hold this pose for at least 30 seconds.

  8. Repeat on the opposite side.

10. Child’s Pose

This gentle forward fold is the perfect way to relax and release tension in neck and back. Your spine is lengthened and stretched. Child’s Pose stretches hips, thighs, and ankles. Practicing this pose helps relieve stress and fatigue.

Muscles worked:

  • gluteus maximus

  • rotator cuff muscles

  • hamstrings

  • spinal extensors

To do this:

  1. Sit back on heels with knees together.

  2. You can use a bolster or blanket under thighs, torso, or forehead for support.

  3. Bend forward and walk hands in front of you.

  4. Rest forehead gently on the floor.

  5. Keep arms extended in front of you or bring arms alongside body with palms facing up.

  6. Focus on releasing tension in your back as your upper body falls heavy into your knees.

  7. Remain in this pose for up to 5 minutes.

Does it really work?

One study in 2017 assessed the effects of either yoga practice or physical therapy over the course of 1 year. The participants had chronic back pain and showed similar improvement in pain and activity limitation. Both groups were less likely to use pain medications after 3 months, found that people who practiced yoga showed small to moderate decreases in pain intensity in the short term. Practice was also found to slightly increase participants’ short- and long-term function.

** Though the research is hopeful, further studies are needed to confirm and expand upon these findings.

Bottom Line

Although recent research supports yoga practice as a way to treat back pain, it may not be appropriate for everyone. Be sure to talk with your doctor before starting any new yoga or exercise program. They can help identify any possible risks and help monitor progress.

You can start a home practice with as little as 10 minutes per day.

If you prefer more hands-on learning, you may wish to take classes at MSYI studio. Be sure to seek out classes and teachers who cater to your specific needs.

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